Time to recommit to sending your children off to school with a healthy school lunch.
When it comes to a healthy school lunch and what goes into your child’s lunchbox, there are a few important factors that ultimately influence what the day’s menu for your child may be:
– You want it to be easy
– You want it to be healthy
– You want it to be tasty and something they will eat
– You want it to be economical
As mums, we are always conscious about ensuring our families eat healthy food, however, research has shown that ‘convenience’ trumps ‘healthy’ almost every time. That is, we really want to pack a healthy school lunch but life and being busy gets in the way and pre-packaged snack foods are an easy option!
With that said, all it takes is a bit of planning and organisation and you can make a healthy school lunch convenient. By spending a small amount of time at the beginning of the week getting the lunch box food prepared and ready to go, your children will have yummy, healthy school lunches each day without the added stress of trying to pull it all together each morning.
Tip #1: Have a lunch box meal plan
At the beginning of the week write or type out the healthy school lunch meal plan. Take your lunch box plan shopping with you to buy everything you need so there are no last minute dashes to the supermarket. Hang it on the fridge for everyone to see.
A meal plan is great because it puts you in control. The night before, all you need to do is refer to your plan and get everything packed and ready. When the busy morning comes around all the kids need to do is grab their lunch box out of the fridge.
A meal plan can also help your kids know whats coming up each day which may curb the pesky nagging or the constant asking about what’s for lunch. You can refer them onto the fridge for their answers.
Tip #2: Buy and cook in bulk
There is no problem with your children having the same thing to eat every day. As long as you change it up every couple of weeks and they are getting plenty of variety throughout the day, there is no need to provide them with something different each and every lunch time. Your objective is a healthy school lunch – You are not an ‘a la carte’ restaurant! It’s also important to keep in mind that buying all those different ingredients can add up very quickly making your grocery bill quite expensive.
Buying and cooking in bulk for the week ahead can ensure that you have a healthy, lunch all ready to go for each day of the week and can save you money because you only have to buy one set of ingredients.
Let’s say lunch is fried rice. On a Sunday afternoon, make up a double batch and put one serve into each of your storage containers. If you’ve got 2 kids, aim to make up to 10 serves of fried rice and keep them in the fridge or freezer. Each night, their lunch box preparation involves adding a serve of rice for lunch, a piece of fruit and a yoghurt for a snack and a water bottle. Lunch box done. Healthy School Lunch … Easy.
Tip #3: Keep it simple
When it comes to thinking about a healthy school lunch, it’s best to keep it simple. Whole fresh food is the best kind of food for children. Aim to keep processed and packaged food to a minimum, particularly if you’re concerned about additives such as sodium, flavourings and preservatives.
My personal preference is to make things myself. Muesli bars, biscuits, cakes and other pre-prepared lunch box foods are fine as small treats but you are much better off making them yourself. This way you know exactly whats in them. Use wholemeal flour instead of white, add grated carrots or apples, over ripe bananas, seeds, bran, dried fruit and high fibre breakfast cereals to your cooking to make them that little bit healthier. Have fun experimenting with different recipes, your kids won’t be tough critics! And when you find something that does work, please share your success with us other mums. We need to help each other out!
If baking and home-made is not your thing, don’t feel bad. Just take a little more time in the supermarket checking all the labels on the pre-packaged snacks. Many large companies are very considerate with the ingredients in their lunchbox snacks as they know their primary market are children who need a healthy school lunch every day.
Lunch box ideas
The Australian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents gives us a breakdown of food groups that our children should be eating each day. You can use this breakdown as your idea bank for packing your children’s lunches.
Here are some lunch box ideas from each of the food groups that your child needs for optimum health and development. These ideas are from lots of mums just like you, so please share your ideas in the comments sections below!
- carrot, celery or capsicum sticks with hummus or tzatziki dip or tomato salsa
- fill a snack cup with frozen peas, corn and carrots, by the time morning tea or lunch comes around they are great little sweet bites to nibble on
- a cold rice, couscous, quinoa or pasta salad – add grated carrot, cubed tomato, drained corn kernels, chopped capsicum, peas, finely shredded baby spinach or whatever other vegetables your children will eat
- this fried rice recipe is great to make in bulk and then eat cold
- fill sandwiches with shredded lettuce, sprouts, sliced tomato, cucumber and capsicum
- vegetable frittatas
- potato cakes with grated vegetables
- 4 bean mix with tuna or salmon
- Lentil and vegetable soups and stews stored in a thermos to keep warm.
- lettuce cups filled with chopped vegtables
- cut up an apple, pear or orange and then put it back together and wrap it in foil to stop it from going brown
- a whole banana, apple or pear
- a snack cup of dried fruit – apricots, sultanas, apple, goji berries, blueberries etc
- a container of watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, rock melon or grapes
- apple slices with peanut butter or cheese
Whole grains and Legumes
- wholemeal sandwich spread with Vegemite, Philadelphia cream cheese.
- soy and linseed bread with ham and cheese
- wholemeal pasta salad with chopped fresh vegetables, chicken and mayonnaise
- brown rice or whole wheat couscous with a tin of flavoured tuna or salmon
- quinoa salad – add a little chicken stock to the water whilst cooking the quinoa (1 part quinoa to 2 parts water, cook until the water disappears) and then add some dried herbs and a little bit of lemon juice to flavour. Add corn kernels, chopped red capsicum, spiced cucumber and any other vegetables.
- baked beans from the tin
- chick pea or lentil salad
- a small tub of yoghurt
- a small container of cubed tasty cheese or sliced cheese with whole grain crackers
- spread crackers or a wrap with cottage or ricotta cheese, add grated vegetables and ham
- cottage cheese with strawberries or blueberries
- mountain bread wraps with Vegemite and grated cheese
- yoghurt with frozen berries
Lean meat, fish, poultry and eggs
- ham, shaved breast chicken or shaved roast beef sandwiches or wraps
- boiled eggs in their shells (teach the kids how to peal them)
- curried egg and salad sandwiches or wraps
- add BBQ’d chicken to salads
- tinned fish to put on whole grain crackers or a sandwich
- mini pizzas with ham or chicken with cheese, pineapple, capsicum, mushrooms etc
Water is best!
Fruit juices, soft drinks and flavoured milks are not suitable replacements for water. Getting them in the habit of drinking only water is an important habit they will bring into adulthood.
Don’t give up on a healthy school lunch for your children.
The important thing to remember in all of this is that getting into healthy routines and developing healthy habits takes time and practice. Once you find your families groove, putting healthy food in their lunch boxes and raising healthy eaters will become second nature if you’re consistent.